Survive the Swine '09
June 6, 2009
By Jessica Sorensen
The summer Journalism study abroad class to Cozumel, Mexico turned from planning activities in May into an abundance of stress and questions when H1N1 struck Mexico City, Mexico weeks before their scheduled departure. Families of the 10 students were called, plans cancelled, and plane tickets changed to a new location—Costa Rica. Five days before the students planned to depart, the Center for Disease Control dropped the travel status for Mexico from a warning to advisory allowing the group to make the island of Cozumel their destination once again. Needless to say, 'patience and flexibility' became the group's motto for their study of mass media in a developing country.
Patience and flexibility was shown during the class's scheduled appointments. It is customary in Mexico to arrive late, perhaps 30 minutes or not at all, without it being thought of as impolite. Students were required to form themselves into a different culture and go outside of their comfort zone, learning more than the simple facts but a way of life.
This way of life is one that cannot be taught in a classroom reading a book. Studying abroad allows students to get outside the classroom and place themselves in a new environment to benefit from new experiences. A few of these experiences that students were able to participate in were visiting the Mayan ruins, snorkeling, and a Turtle Salvation Program. Although the class is focused on media and journalism, students were able to learn some history when they visited the Mayan ruins. They were able to see the Mayan streets, houses, and pyramids. Snorkeling was a enjoyable activity as well as educational.
"Snorkeling was really fun because it was my first time and it was really cool to see all the fish around us," said Julia Liu, a senior broadcasting major. "I was scared at first, but after the experience I learned about how there is such a different type of life and environment going on around us."
Mass media was incorporated when students interviewed journalists, a magazine editor, business owners, and toured radio and television stations to learn about things such as advertising and attaining information. The multiple interviews of professionals as well as of citizens allowed students to see how people use media to the best of their abilities in a developing country where resources can be limited.
Volunteer work was also a service learning part of the course and was something the students were eager to do. Students packed extra suitcases with donations for "gran bazar" where used clothes were sold at low prices. Other volunteer projects included shopping for clothes and, compiling school backpacks for needy children, and visiting a school for children with special needs.
"Visiting the CAM school was one of the best experiences I had in Cozumel," said Allie Busch, junior advertising major. "It was good to see the kids' face light up when we walked into the room. It was something that I will never forget."
The H1N1 scare has had many effects on many people around the world and the students in the Journalism study abroad class were able to see first-hand what can happen to an area that depends on tourism. Many people visit Cozumel and surrounding areas for a few days go back home, thinking how beautiful the island was. Although this may be true, students were able to see another side of the island and how much one thing can affect many people. Cozumel is an island that depends on tourism and students witnessed the effects of what happens when the number of tourists is sparse by meeting residents who had lost their jobs, viewing numerous stores closing, as well as people pleading to shop at their store.
"I never really thought a lot about the swine flu and its effects until I came to Cozumel," said Stephanie Morrissey, sophomore broadcasting major. "There isn't even any flu in Cozumel but the consequences of it being in other places is obvious. I learned a lot on this trip and I realized how fortunate I am to have the things that I do."